The Great Condom Debate

Joanne Cachapero
The debate over condoms often boils down to a numbers game. Players are willing to wager health concerns and the potential for infection against the demand for marketable content that feeds consumers' condom-less fantasies.

Male performer Dino Bravo looks at it like this: "Say we did 800 movies a month. The average movie has four scenes in it, so that's 3,200 sex scenes a month. Now, that's 38,400 sex scenes a year."

Rounding up to 40,000 scenes a year, Bravo calculates that about 240,000 scenes have been filmed in the past seven years, since the 1999 HIV incident. In that time, there has been one major outbreak, which resulted in four performers testing positive for HIV and an industry-imposed 60-day quarantine in 2004.

"I mean, it's gonna happen," Bravo speculates, "but one [outbreak] in 240,000?"

More telling than speculation about odds and percentages is Bravo's personal experience. During his six-year career and approximately 500 scenes, Bravo has used condoms 20 times and contracted chlamydia once. Bravo has no problems using a condom, he says, but feels secure with required testing for STDs/HIV.

The Real Numbers
Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation (AIM) says statistics for 2005 reflect relatively low incidence of STDs for what's considered a high-risk population.

"We average about 1,200 to 1,500 talent members a month," says Dr. Patric Hernandez-Kline, Director of Medicine for AIM. "January through March of last year, there was a 1.65 percent rate of gonorrhea for the industry. Chlamydia is always a bit higher; the rate at that time was 4.69 percent."

Since the 2004 outbreak, the figure for HIV infection within the industry has been 0 percent, although there have been a few cases of newcomers who tested positive and, subsequently, were not allowed to perform.

In the mainstream, with the U.S. population totaling 300 million, an estimated 1 million individuals are HIV positive. Of that figure, 250,000 don't know they are infected.

Even with heightened awareness of STDs within the adult industry, the harsh reality is it only takes one to be too many.

"One guy's test came up positive," Seymore Butts said in an interview given to a week after the 2004 outbreak. "And now there are 65 people who have been quarantined."

At the time, King of Gonzo Butts was ready and willing to jump on the condom-only bandwagon with several other major companies. But he also recognized the problem with requiring performers to wear condoms.

"Look, the big risk is that I'm risking losing a lot of sales," he said. "But I'm minimizing the danger to the performers I work with."

Since then, Butts, like most producers, has found that gambling on condom-optional has longer odds, while it's a sure bet going condom-only will result in lower revenue.

That's not to say he doesn't acknowledge the ethical concerns. In a recent interview with XBIZ about talent represented by his Lighthouse Agency, Butts endorsed performer Brittany Andrews' staunch condom-only stance but warily cited the difficulties of practicing safe sex.

"She wants to work with condoms," he explains. "That certainly does affect the amount of work she gets, especially now that one of the larger companies is now condom- optional. She might be out of that ball-game as well, unless the perfect part comes along for her. And that, to me, is kind of sad in a sense."

The "larger company" Butts is referring to is Vivid, which changed its longstanding condom-only policy in February, prompting director Chi Chi La Rue's departure due to his condom- only position.

"You know what? Everyone is positive," La Rue says. "That guy over there's positive, this one's positive, that one's positive — that's the mindset that I'm in.

From La Rue's perspective as a director of both straight and gay content, he isn't sure if there's a way to make condoms "hot" for the straight audience.

"I've done everything I can possibly do to incorporate them into the sex act, by showing them come out of Gstrings, having them be in the girls' mouths and put onto dicks with their mouths — every way, shape and form — and nothing seems to matter to the people out there," says La Rue. "They just don't want to see condoms."

Gay Issue, Too
Influenced by HIV/AIDS as an everyday reality, approximately 75 percent of gay content producers have strict condom-only policies. However, in gay culture, there's more stigma attached to having an HIV-positive diagnosis than to being a "porn star." As such, no standard testing protocol is in place for gay productions due to concerns for privacy, and many gay performers are rumored to be HIV-positive.

Currently, AIM offers only "mail-in" testing for areas outside of greater Los Angeles and has tried, unsuccessfully, to set up programs for gay industry members.

"The way AIM works, if someone tests positive, you can't work, which is just not workable for the gay industry," says Keith Webb, co-owner of Titan Media and an HIV-positive performer. "If you use condoms, you shouldn't be required to do testing because there are still HIV privacy issues that go along with that. If you're not using condoms, you should be using testing through an approved, third-party company such as AIM, that can be monitored."

Webb also abhors the recent trend of bareback content.

"Contemporary bareback has really eroticized the internal ejaculation, and it's now all about the internal cum-dump. [Producers] make the highest-risk sex act you can do the erotic feature of the film," he explains. "It's like playing Russian roulette with your ass."

But is a gay bareback video any different than a straight cream-pie video, clinically speaking? One point on which industry members, straight and gay, agree is that while STD/HIV tests may serve as an adequate warning system, they do not prevent infection. The 10- to 14-day window required for a virus to become detectable leaves time to produce false-negative results, while the performer may be inadvertently spreading the virus, as occurred in the 2004 HIV outbreak.

"I'm torn between the safe-sex issues. The test does not mean you're practicing safe sex, just because you go get a test every 30 days," says Skye Blue, president of Platinum Blue Productions and a former performer. "For business purposes, we don't want to make movies that show condoms.

"But," Blue adds, "if I was a performer currently, I'd be a condom-only performer."

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